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Steadfast

Oct 19, 2015

USS_ScurrySusan Herney dove headfirst—first, into her mother’s diary and then into 200 pieces of correspondence between her parents, Al and Dorothy (Dot) Herney, during her father’s commission on the U.S.S. Scurry during World War II, which was a U. S. Navy minesweeper. One of its missions was to sweep for mines prior to the assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.¹

Herney’s journey back in time and into her parents’ lives has resulted in her first commercial work, a memoir called Steadfast.

Herney reads from and signs Steadfast at Vroman’s “local authors debut” on October 25. She’ll be joined by authors Carol Wawrychuk (Taking Nana Home) and Janet Rendall (Route 66 to the Milky Way).

We are grateful to Ms. Herney for finding the time to answer some questions…

HP: How old were you during the years your father was at war?

Susan: I was 15 months old when my father received his commission in the US Naval Reserve and went to ‘indoctrination training’ (basic training) in Arizona for six weeks. Then we went to Boston for three months for his training as a communications officer at Harvard’s Service School. Reserve officers training in this manner were referred to as ’90-day wonders’ by regular naval officers, a somewhat derisive characterization, it seems to me. I saw him only periodically after July 1944 when he was ordered to Seattle where his ship was under construction. His ship sailed into the Pacific Ocean in October (I was two years old at that time) and we did not see him again until his return in January, 1946 when I was 3 ½ year old.

 

Susan with her father, Al Herney

Susan with her father, Al Herney, at Boston war memorial

 

The invocation during the commissioning ceremony of the USS Skurry, July 29, 1944. Ensign Albert Herney is third from the left in the row of officers. The ship’s name was later changed to the USS Scurry.

The invocation during the commissioning ceremony of the USS Skurry, July 29, 1944. Ensign Albert Herney is third from the left in the row of officers. The ship’s name was later changed to the USS Scurry.

 

HP: Could you give a few examples of what you remember about those years? What was it like for you during the war?

Susan: I remember very little about that time. We lived in our home in Chula Vista, near San Diego, close to my father’s large and supportive family after our return from Boston in May, 1944. In early 1945, my mother took my younger brother and me to Lincoln, Nebraska, to live with her parents there. I remember only feeding sunflower seeds to the cardinal birds during the winter! We returned to Chula Vista in early December, 1945, in anticipation of my father’s return. I have a vague memory of the day he returned, and being held by him. I grew up in Chula Vista, and also lived there for many years as an adult.

 

ration-book

 

As a toddler during the war years, I was shielded from the harsh realities. According to the letters, I missed my father and kissed his photo. Otherwise, I enjoyed a fairly ‘normal’ childhood during this time, at least from my perspective. A friend who is older than I am tells me that she was eight when the war began and she was scared much of the time.

 

merry-xmas

 

Chula Vista, late 1943

Chula Vista, late 1943

 

Dot-Red-Cross

 

HP: What compelled you to write this story? What was the process and how difficult was it?

Susan: After my mother’s death in 1997, I came across the collection of letters and other items in the bottom drawer of an old file cabinet. Although I did not have the time, or energy, to focus on the letters at that time, I resolved to do so at some later date. When I retired in 2013, I remembered my resolution and began sorting through the collection. I did not know what I would find, or even if it would be a pleasant experience. Fortunately, I learned much about each of my parents, their personalities and character, and was not disappointed. I was amused by my father’s sense of humor, his acceptance of the ‘role Uncle gave’ him, and his determination to be discharged from the Navy at the earliest possible opportunity – the military’s bureaucratic way of life was not agreeable. He was increasingly unhappy with the way the reserves were treated by the regular officers and peeved that his squadron of minesweepers was retained to sweep mines around Korea and Japan to make way for occupation forces in the fall and early winter of 1945 — a job he said should be rightly done by the regulars. He was eager to return to his family and his law practice with his older sister and to take up his life again.

 

Al-civvies

1946

 

My father died at age 45 in 1957, (I was just 13) so I never really got to know him as an adult. The letters filled many gaps and provided me with insights I would otherwise never have had. He did not talk about the war. He had been homesick and seasick for much of his time in the Pacific, and because his ship, a minesweeper, was only 180 feet long, rough seas were especially rough on his system. (He definitely did not want to go sailing again – ever!!) He was a homebody and relished time with his family and friends, especially at the family compound on Mt. Palomar. My parents were social people and enjoyed a wide circle of friends in Chula Vista and San Diego.

HP: How did you come to devise the structure?

Susan: A first step was to organize the volume of paper and other items into a logical sequence. Many of the letters were dated only with the day and month. A few were attached to envelopes with postmarks. Using calendars from 1943, 1944, and 1945, I found clues using references to the days of the week to catalogue the letters into chronological order.

Next I developed three parallel timelines: one for major events in the war; one to chart Al’s duty stations; and another for Dot’s whereabouts. Then, I organized the other materials, including all photos and other items into chronological sequence. Some assumptions were corrected, and new discoveries made as the story unfolded when the transcription process began.

 

Dot's desk diary

Dot’s desk diary

 

HP: How long did it take to write Steadfast?

Susan: Transcribing the letters was a laborious process at first due to the challenge of Al’s penmanship, his made-up words, and outright misspellings. There should also be some consideration for the movement of the small ship, but Al’s handwriting was nearly illegible. There remains one word I was not able to decipher. Al’s letters were subject to censorship from the time he boarded the Scurry in August, 1944 until after Japan’s surrender a year later. As a result, the text required annotation to clarify the ship’s location and mission at the time some letters were written.

The ship’s first year anniversary booklet “The Saga of the Scurry” produced on-board July 29, 1945, was especially useful. I was also able to locate sufficient information to provide additional context for the letters, including the (Library of Congress Veterans History Project) Salazar interview, Spangler’s work on Ulithi, and US Navy records regarding staffing patterns during the war in the Pacific.

The transcription and research/documentation process took about six months, working at least a few hours every day. It required a certain discipline but it was a worthwhile commitment. I incorporated ancillary information I was able to find to provide background and context. For example, US Navy records verified Al’s complaint about disparity between the regulars and reservists, showing that in July, 1945, at the peak of the war effort in the Pacific, reservists comprised 87 percent of US naval forces. George Spangler’s work on Ulithi brings that remote and largely unknown supply station into readers’ view and appreciation. It was a massive and impressive work of engineering and logistics that did much to position US forces closer to their ultimate target at Okinawa.

A good friend read the entire draft manuscript and suggested ways I might make relationships of those in the story easier for the reader to follow.

Both of my parents were deceased by the time I began this project. As the letters were written in presumed confidence, I did use pseudonyms in those instances when my father wrote unkindly about others, many of whose descendants still live in Chula Vista or San Diego.

 

hello-daddy

 

HP: As this is a story of your parents’ journey, which you are also a part, how did it feel upon completion (of writing the book and having it printed/in your hands)?

Susan: I am quite happy to see the final product. I chose “Steadfast” as the title because I believe it is an apt characterization of my parent’s relationship with each other and their commitments to the war effort, their values, and their way of life.

For me, Steadfast validates their efforts, and those of legions of others like them, which makes their generation so remarkable. At a minimum, it is my hope that the work will provide those interested in that generation with the story of the impact of World War II on individual lives of everyday participants, their contributions to the war effort, and insights into their personalities and character. I also believe that others, including scholars researching various aspects of that amazing time in history, will find the stories, documents, and illustrations useful primary source material. The entire collection has been accepted as a donation by the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and will be available for that purpose. The critical work of minesweepers seems to be largely overlooked in military history. Perhaps this work will help elevate the reputation of their contribution, even as Al would say, of the ‘little fellers.’

 

western-union

 

HP: Now for a few personal questions. What is your favorite time of day and if you have no prior commitments, what do you like to do?

Susan: My favorite time of day is the late afternoon, as the sun is setting. I use this time for reflection and, weather permitting, to sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine watching birds from my patio.

HP: What is your least favorite chore?

Susan: My least favorite chore is dealing with computer issues on my own. I sorely miss the IT helpers available to me when I was regularly employed.

I use social media to keep up with friends and former colleagues, but miss the connection of telephone and fact-to-face interaction.

HP: What have you learned or experienced that has become the core life lesson or value that is essential to your life and/or who you are?

Susan: The sudden and premature death of my father just 11 years after his return from his war-time service rocked our family. As I watched my mother support and educate me and my brother, and then embark upon her own active retirement fifteen years later, I internalized the lessons of perseverance in the face of adversity. She seized every opportunity to live and enjoy life, and to travel as often as possible.   As I read through the letters I realized that her quiet inner strength and her positive approach to life continued to sustain her through such unexpected challenges later in life.

HP: Say you have a free day in Pasadena, or anywhere in San Gabriel Valley. What is a dream day for you?

Susan: An ideal free day would begin with brunch at The Hill Street Café, a stop to browse at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, perhaps meeting friends at the coffee shop there, a light movie at the theater next door, followed by dinner with my family and grandchildren at Joselito’s West in Tujunga, our favorite Mexican restaurant. You will note that none of this involves any cooking on my part!

 

Susan-Herney

 

Susan Herney Reads & Signs Steadfast
Sunday, Oct. 25th, 4 p.m.
Vroman’s, 693 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 91101
Free event
Cost of book: $23.50
For complete details, visit VromansBookstore.com

 

Steadfast-by-Susan-Herney

 

~~~

¹ Source: HistoryCentral.com/Navy/minelayer/Scurry.

 




1 Response for “Steadfast”

  1. Ciji England says:

    I don’t know if you get this or not but my grandpa was on the USS Scurry in 1944 so I was wondering if there was a way of finding out the names of the service men in the picture you have. I have no pictures from when my grandpa served other then his navy picture. I hope to hear back from you. thank you.

    Ciji England ( Tillery )

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